Their room was large. That was the only good thing she could say about it. Her whole family, all seven of them, lived together in that room, sleeping on army cots and sitting on orange crates. The room was hot and dusty and smelled of its former inhabitants: horses, cows, pigs, and all the other animals that had come though the Portland Livestock Exposition Center before it became a different sort of holding pen.
Now, in the spring of 1942, the long, wooden stockyard buildings, with their rows of stalls and stables and pens, were hastily converted into living quarters for more than two thousand nikkei (Americans of Japanese descent and their Japanese-born parents). They lived here under military guard, behind barbed wire fences anchored with sentry towers. Just a few weeks ago, she and her family, all the families, had been living quiet lives in Portland. Now they were incarcerated at what was being called the North Portland Assembly Center.
She could get used to the smell. But the noise was something else. During the day the place was a hive of activity: men hammering together tables from scrap wood, women cooking rice on tiny hot plates, children running up and down the long corridors, playing and yelling. At night, after they turned out the lights at eleven, the babies would cry. Cots would creak as the old people got up to make the long walk to the bathrooms at the end of the building. Couples would talk, sometimes fight. She could hear every cough, every whisper. The walls of each room were only slats covered with thin plywood to make eight-foot-high room dividers. All the rooms shared a common ceiling.